Children in war-torn Ukraine seek solace from trauma with the help of tail-wagging therapist Bice, an American pit bull terrier.
The state-owned Social and Psychological Rehabilitation Center in Boyarka, a suburb about 20 km south-west of Kyivuses the support of dogs to comfort children who may be traumatized by the Russian war.
Created in 2000, the center remains one of the few places lit and heated as the Russians attack Ukraine’s energy infrastructure leaving houses without electricity.
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Oksana Sliepora, a psychologist, observed that some children are afraid of loud noises, such as the sound of a jet or the closing of a window. She said some even dropped to the ground or started asking if there was a bomb shelter nearby.
Ms Sliepora said: “I’ve read a lot of literature that working with dogs, with four-legged rehabilitators, helps children reduce stress, increase stress resistance and reduce anxiety. “
A group of children – seven girls and nine boys – aged two to 18, were invited by Bice owner Darina Kokozei to come and ask him to perform a trick, stand on his hind legs at turn around.
Some of the children using the center have seen Russian soldiers invade their hometown and beat up their loved ones. Some are sons, daughters, brothers or sisters of soldiers on the front lines, many of whom have been killed.
A brother and sister in Kupyansk, a town in the eastern Kharkiv region, saw Russian soldiers burst into their house with machine guns, grab their grandfather, put a bag over his head and beat him, said Ms Slidepora.
Another, 9-year-old Maxim, has a 19-year-old paratrooper brother who is fighting in the town of Bakhmut in the eastern Donetsk region. His mother, Lesya Kucherenko, regularly breaks down in tears thinking of her eldest son.
When asked what message Bice offered to children, Ms. Kokozei replied, “Freedom. Freedom from problems and happiness.”